Southern Resident killer whale population is running out of salmon, running out of time

January 31, 2017

To read the article visit the source, National Geographic

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Divers record underwater encounter with killer whales off Norway

January 25, 2017

A diver off the coast of Norway captured video footage of an unusual underwater encounter, with a pod of killer whales.

The video, posted to Instagram by user bobcatlisa, shows the diver and her companions scuba diving off Tromso, Norway, when they encounter the whales.

The black and white whales swim in a group past the humans, not appearing to notice them.

The orcas do not appear bothered when one of the human dives swims in for a closer look.

To see the VIDEO visit the source upi.com

Hard for sea poachers to go after killer whales in Sabah, assures animal expert

January 25, 2017

Tight maritime security in Sabah’s east coast and strict regulation on international trade of marine mammals will make it difficult for outsiders to hunt killer whales in the state waters.

Marine mammals expert Dr Lindsay Porter, when contacted, told the New Straits Times that it was impossible for hunters to escape with a large marine mammal without being noticed.

Porter, who works with the World Wide Fund for Nature, deals with dolphins, whales, porpoises, and dugongs. She also works on issues of marine mammal harvesting and hunting for food, bait or traditional uses.

On Jan 21, the NST reported on the sightings of a pod of orcas – the largest species of dolphin – near Sipadan Island. The killer whales were spotted by a group of divers.

Following the report, readers expressed concern that publicising such report would attract sea poachers or marine mammal hunters into the area.

“Perhaps this is a risk but I am somewhat baffled as to who would have a vessel large enough and explosive harpoons available to kill a killer whale?

“They are not small. Small rifle fire unlikely to do much damage and quite frankly, what market would there be for dead killer whales? And live ones, it would be extremely difficult to catch one on the east coast of Sabah,” responded Porter.

“There is a strict regulation on international trade of marine mammals, even if someone could catch and hold a killer whale…there are also regular patrols by security forces as well as Fisheries and Wildlife agencies.

“Sabah’s east coast is heavily patrolled by maritime security (possibly) making it very difficult for outsiders to try and come into our waters for such purposes,” she said, stressing killer whales are large and fast predators.

With respect to concerns that some people may exploit killer whales in Sabah waters, Porter said it was unlikely that anyone from the state could or would opportunistically hunt or kill orcas.

While pointing there was some evidence that traditional hunts for small dolphins occurred in the past, she said this was different as it was easier than hunting a killer whale.

“I do this work for the International Whaling Commission that is interested in all aspects of humans using marine mammals for food or any other purpose.

“We have done extensive work on where and who in Asia would or has exploited marine mammals (including hunting them or killing them if they get tangle in fishing nets).

“Sabah has a very low reporting rate of any consumption or bait use. Only some of the coastal people may use dolphin teeth as currency or dowry but this is poorly documented.

“This was why I find it unlikely that Sabahans would hunt the killer whales as they neither have the skills nor equipment to do so and there is no traditional demand or market.”

She however noted that In Indonesia, the people of Lamellera are famous for their daring attempts to harpoon sperm whales by using traditional spears.

For experienced hunters like these people, Porter said they might be capable of successfully harpooning a killer whale.

On presence of orcas in Sabah waters, she noted there had been several sightings of in Sabah waters but none of encounters were in the news.

“It is great to see marine mammals and the oceans being featured in news.

“I don’t think that reporting the sighting of these amazing oceanic predators increases the risk of anyone trying to harm or hunt these animals.

“I think instead that reporting this species, highlighting Sabah’s rich and diverse marine wildlife and reminding everyone that the oceans are ours to look after is a great privilege that the many means of news media broadcasting can provide.”

Source: New Straits Times

Sipadan orca sighting unusual, but not unheard-of occurrence

January 21, 2017

The sighting of a pod of orcas by a group of divers in Sipadan waters last Sunday was not a first, as the marine mammals have been spotted in Sabah waters several times before.

This was shared by other divers following New Straits Times’ online report on the recent encounter near the world-renowned island.

Downbelow Marine and Wildlife Adventures managing director Richard Swann told the NST that there had been several sightings in the past, wherein orcas were seen passing through waters off Sipadan and Layang-Layang islands.

“Although I have yet to encounter them, I know others who have. They spotted a pod of orcas in Sipadan waters a few years back.

“The killer whales were seen chasing dolphins, but I am not sure if (the divers) were able to document the event, because the boat… could not catch up (with the mammals),” Swann said.

He added that another group of divers spotted killer whales near Layang-Layang in March last year.

Swann, who is a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Platinum course director, has been diving in Sabah for over 10 years.

During his dives in the state, he has encountered whale sharks and dolphins.

“I (saw) melon-headed whales (often referred to as ‘blackfish’ or ‘false killer whales’) in 2005 in Sipadan waters, but I missed the killer whales.

“At that time, there could have been hundreds of dolphins… probably more than a thousand (different) species. As for melon-headed whales, it is hard to say (how many of them there were), as they seemed to be very cautious and kept their distance.

“Every now and again, there is a huge number of dolphins passing through and predators naturally follow, on occasion.

“It can be breath-taking, (it’s) like some kind of marine convention, and they socialise when they come together, unless being hunted – then they are just on full speed,” said Swann.

Last Sunday, 32-year-old diver Faridzul Adzli Mad Adim encountered about eight orcas and took videos of them swimming and jumping out of the water.

His videos, which he posted on his Facebook page, have garnered more than 8,000 views.

Meanwhile, Sabah Fisheries Director Ahemad Sade said presence of killer whale in Sabah waters was not common but noted they have been spotted in waters off Semporna.

“As for now we can tentatively identify it as killer whale by looking at the white spot under the dorsal fin (based on Faridzul’s video).

“The orcas could have used our waters as part of their migratory route since waters off Sipadan is quiet deep.

“The area is also a migratory route for yellow fin and big eye tuna,” he said.

While it carries the name ‘whale’, this marine mammal belongs to the dolphin family and is its largest member.

Although killer whales tend to inhabit cold oceans, they can be found in all of the world’s major seas, from the Arctic and Antarctica, to various tropical regions located in and around the equator.

They usually prey on squid, octopus, seal, sea lion, sea otter, ray, dolphin, shark, baleen whale and of course, bony fishes. Occasionally, turtles and seabirds, including penguins, are added to their diet.

Source: New Straits Times

Unusual sighting of two orca whales in Langebaan Lagoon (South Africa)

January 20, 2017

Killer whales havebeen known to hunt in the waters along the Cape coast, but the infrequency ofan event like this made the sighting in Langebaan Lagoon this week that muchmore special.

This week, Atlantic Yachting students were treated to a close encounter with some of the more elusive members of the whale family.

The pair of orcas was spotted in Langebaan Lagoon on the second day of the students’ course, and their instructor, Andre van der Linde, managed to snap these pics which he shared on their Facebook page.

orca1

An Atlantic Yachting team member said, “What a privilege – our students got to see these two beauts on the 2nd day of their competent crew course.”

Source: The South African.com

Rare orca autopsy suggests whale died after losing calf

January 18, 2017

A RARE autopsy carried out on a killer whale washed up on a Scottish beach has revealed a tragic story known all too well known to humans.

Experts believe the orca lost her calf during birth and then likely died as a result of complications from pregnancy.

The post mortem examination revealed that the previously healthy whale had suffered a prolapsed uterus and had a severe infection which had affected her stomach, liver and intestines.

A team from the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS) arrived on the island of Linga, Shetland, on Monday after the whale washed up last Thursday.

The four-strong team took four hours to carry out their investigations and concluded that although she was alive when she washed up, she wouldn’t have survived if anyone had been there to help and was unfortunately in severe pain before she died.

The team now hope to learn more about the species from the samples they have taken back to their laboratory in Inverness.

Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary in Shetland, uploaded gruesome video footage of the killer whale being dissected by the SMASS experts.

The sanctuary wrote: “This video is not for the faint hearted as it shows graphic images of a killer whale being cut up by experts carrying out a necropsy.”

The clip starts as the dead whale is towed off the beach and taken to a nearby landing for the experts to carry out their examination.

The camera films as the team open up the carcass to reveal its innards and start to saw and chop different sections away from the body.

At one point, the team can be seen unravelling the killer whale’s intestines which can grow to over 50m in length.

The footage ends with shots of different sections of the whale, including a part of its mouth with teeth and what appears to be its heart.

Andrew Brownlow, part of the SMASS team said: “We’ve been lucky enough to do quite a comprehensive post-mortem on a female killer whale, which is quite a rare species for strandings.

“They feed right at the top of the food chain and are a good representation of what’s going on in the marine environment.

“This one is an interesting story. She has a few things going on. One is that she’s prolapsed her uterus which we think has led to her stranding.

“There’s evidence she was alive before she came onto the beach. In addition to that, she has a really quite severe infection through her abdominal cavity.”

He continued: “We’ll now get some samples back to the lab and work out if it was because she was very poorly she lost her calf or was it the other way around?

“My gut feeling is that she was happy and healthy until very recently and whatever has done this has happened relatively quickly.

“She had been pregnant and for some reason, something went wrong with that and she lost the calf and got very sick.

“That’s the reasons that she then ended up on a beach and an animal that size, it’s very difficult for her to recover from that.

“Nobody wants to see an animal like this wash up dead but we’re probably going to be able to find out a lot more on this species.”

Source: Dead Line News.co.uk

Proposed orca-protection zone off San Juan Island would ban most motorized vessels

January 13, 2017

The federal government is considering whether it should set up an area off Washington state’s San Juan Island where endangered killer whales would be protected from motorboats and other disturbances.

Most motorized vessels would be banned under a proposed whale-protection zone sought by three conservation groups.

Puget Sound orcas face multiple threats, including pollution, lack of prey and impacts from boats. The zone is a common-sense approach that can be implemented immediately, Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity and Project Seawolf said in a petition filed with NOAA Fisheries.

The agency announced Thursday it is seeking input from industry, tribes, government agencies and others on the November petition before deciding whether to proceed.

NOAA Fisheries said studies indicate that the whales forage less in the presence of boat traffic. The orcas rely heavily on underwater sounds to find food and communicate, and boat noise may disrupt that process.

Killer whales can be found in many oceans, but this small distinct population can typically be found in Puget Sound from spring to fall. They use unique calls to communicate with one another and eat salmon rather than marine mammals.

The orcas were listed as endangered in 2005. NOAA Fisheries says they’re among the species most at risk for extinction in the near future. With the loss of seven animals in 2016, the population is down to 78.

“We’re looking at every option and every opportunity to address the threats to these whales,” Barry Thom, administrator of NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, said in a statement Thursday.

NOAA Fisheries considered a similar no-go zone in 2011 but declined to move forward, citing strong opposition at the time.

“The petition presents an opportunity to revisit that idea and get input from the public on this type of protection for the whale,” Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries recovery coordinator for the southern resident killer whales, said in a statement.

Jeff Friedman, U.S. president of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, told KING-TV in Seattle that the primary challenge the whales face is lack of salmon. “This petition is a really big distraction for the real issues facing the southern resident killer whales,” he told the Seattle station.

In 2011, the agency adopted rules requiring boats to stay 200 yards from the whales and out of their path.

But the petitioners say those protections and voluntary measures haven’t been sufficient to protect the whales.

They’re proposing a zone larger and wider than the one considered in 2011. They’re also asking for an additional ¼-mile buffer to give the whales “more quiet and rest” in their key habitat area and for the rules apply between April 1 to Sept. 30.

Source: Seattle Times.com

Reproductive Conflict and the Evolution of Menopause in Killer Whales

January 12, 2017

Darren P. Croft, Rufus A. Johnstone, Samuel Ellis, Kenneth C. Balcomb, John K.B. Ford, Michael A. Cant. (2017). Reproductive Conflict and the Evolution of Menopause in Killer Whales 2(2), 298-304

https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(16)31462-2?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0960982216314622%3Fshowall%3Dtrue

Menopause Mystery: Why Do Female Killer Whales Experience The Change Of Life?

January 12, 2017

Menopause is a mystery to evolutionary biologists, but new insights could come from a long-term study of killer whales.

In these whales, the explanation may lie in a combination of conflict and cooperation between older and younger females, according to a report published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Killer whales are one of only three species known to have menopause — the others are pilot whales and humans. Researchers have long wondered why it was that these few species evolved to have females that spend so much of their lives unable to have babies.

Killer whales start reproducing around age 15, but stop having calves in their 30s or 40s, even though they can live for around a century.

A team led by behavioral ecologist Darren Croft of the University of Exeter decided to search for answers with the help of an unusual long-term study of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest. There, since the 1970s, researchers have carefully collected information on the births and deaths of individual whales that live in family groups.

Contained within the data is an intriguing clue about why female whales may stop reproducing later in life.

When older females reproduce at the same time as their daughters, who live alongside them, the calves of the older mothers are nearly twice as likely to die in the first 15 years of life. But when older mothers had calves in the absence of a reproducing daughter, their calves did just fine.

“It’s not that older mothers are bad mothers, that they’re not able to raise their calves as younger mothers,” says Croft. “It’s that when they enter into this competition with their daughters, they lose out and their calves are more likely to die.”

The competition may center on access to food, says Croft, because there’s good reason to believe older females feel more pressure to share their precious fish with the others around them.

That’s because, in killer whales, females mate with males from other groups but then rejoin their families. That means when a new calf is born, its father is not around, and females start their lives in a situation where their relatedness to the group is rather low.

As a female grows older and starts having calves that stay with her, however, she develops more kinship ties to those around her. “It may be that older females are more likely to share, and younger females are less likely to share food,” says Croft. That would mean younger females would have more resources to lavish on their own calves.

It’s clear that in these whales, older females play an important role in the survival of not just their own calves, but all of the family members they live with. “If an old female dies, her son’s risk of dying in the year following her death is over eight times higher than if his mother was still alive,” says Croft, “and these are adult sons, these are not juveniles, these are 30-year-old, fully grown males.”

The idea that older females safeguard and enhance their genetic legacy by protecting and providing for their children and grandchildren has been an influential explanation for why menopause evolved. It’s known as the Grandmother hypothesis, and was developed by anthropologists who studied hunter-gatherer cultures.

But Croft thinks that alone isn’t enough to account for menopause, because other long-lived, social species, like elephants, have older females that help their group but continue to bear young until the end of life. “Just the fact that these old females can store information and share that with the group and increase their survival doesn’t explain why they stop reproducing,” says Croft.

Proponents of the Grandmother hypothesis, however, may not be so convinced that intrafamilial conflict plays an important role.

Anthropologist Kristen Hawkes, at the University of Utah, says the killer whales are fascinating, but that they’re hard to study. “They’re doing all kinds of stuff where you can’t see it, and even to get demographic data is just so tricky, because they’re all underwater and they’re long-lived,” she says.

She points to one recent study on food-sharing in killer whales that found older females share fish with their older adult sons, perhaps to maximize the males’ ability to sire more babies.

If that’s the case, she says, “it’s not the older females and younger females in competition, it’s the older females contributing to the enormous success of their sons, and then those baby whales are all born somewhere else. They’re not competing, because their moms are elsewhere.”

Source: npr.org

Rare orcas spotted by whale watchers off Newport Beach

January 10, 2017

Whale watchers were treated to a rare sight over the weekend when a pod of killer whales were spotted swimming off Newport Beach.

The group of five Eastern Tropical Pacific Killer whales, which included a calf, were seen swimming about a mile offshore near Point Vicente on Saturday.

Dale Frink, a professional wildlife photographer who works for Davey’s Locker Whale Watching, told the Associated Press that this type of orca does not appear in Orange County waters very often and that it is more common to see them from San Diego south to Peru.

He said the boat stayed with the whales, identified by their dark saddle area behind their dorsal fins, for about a half hour.

Whale expert Alisa Schulman-Janiger wrote on her Facebook page that the whales  put on quite the show.

“Breachathon!!,” she wrote. “Several Eastern Tropical Pacific killer whales breached nine times within one minute, right next to astonished whale watchers!”

She told the The Orange County Register that the whale sighting was “extremely rare.”

“In my 35 years of researching them, this is the very first time I’ve seen them,” she said.

Schulman-Janiger  said it was an “amazing first encounter with these mysterious whales from southern waters.”

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Source: San Diego Union Tribune.com